Speaking at a luncheon in his honor sponsored by the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation (HCEF), and later to the Catholic Standard, Patriarch Fouad Twal said Christians “can be the bridge between the Jewish and Muslim majorities.”
If Palestinian Christians are supported and encouraged to remain in the Holy Land, they can serve as peacemakers in that troubled region, the recently installed Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem said Aug. 11.
Speaking at a luncheon in his honor sponsored by the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation (HCEF), and later to the Catholic Standard, Patriarch Fouad Twal said Christians "can be the bridge between the Jewish and Muslim majorities."
"Everybody needs more knowledge and more information," he said. "The reality is the more objective information we give and the more we inform people, the more we will form their consciences."
Peace will come to the Holy Land, he said, when there is "more good will and more trust."
Patriarch Twal, who was installed June 22 as Patriarch of Jerusalem, spoke to about 200 guests of the HCEF, an organization created to assist Arab Christians in the Holy Land, and to develop bonds of solidarity between them and Christians in other parts of the world. Among those attending the luncheon welcoming the patriarch to Washington were Archbish-op Donald Wuerl; Arch-bishop Pietro Sambi, the papal nuncio to the United States; Cardinal William Keeler, the retired archbishop of Baltimore, and Orlan-do Bishop Thomas Wenski, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Inter-national Justice and Peace.
The gathering was held at the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center in Washington.
The Patriarchate of Jerusalem includes Israel, the Palestinian Territories and Jordan and includes Palestinians, Israeli-born, Hebrew-speaking Christ-ians, Jordanians, European guest workers and immigrants and pilgrims from all over the world.
The patriarchate has about 370,000 Catholics, about 2 percent of the 17 million people who live in Israel, the Palestinian Territories and Jordan.
"What was once a sizable Christian community has been greatly reduced," Patriarch Twal said. "The closed borders have separated our people. Christian Palestinians outside of the Holy Land are more than double those who live in the Holy Land. The Church of the Holy Land has a vocation to remain there. Despite our small number, we must remain where Jesus preached."
Christians leave the Holy Land, he said, "to find more dignity, work, peace. I wish them all the best, and at the same time ask them not to forget us."
Despite the turmoil in the area, the patriarch said there are encouraging signs.
"We have dynamic parishes, fine young priests, our seminaries are filled, there is a world awareness (of the plight of Palestinian Christians) and many pilgrims have been coming in the past two or three years," he said.
His plan for peace, he said, would be a two-step approach.
"First, we must stop the exodus of Christians. We must give them more of a sense of cultural conscience and more awareness that they must be witnesses to the faith. They have a vocation to stay (in the Holy Land)," Patriarch Twal said. "And, second, we must make sure they have employment and housing that will lead to trust and hope in the future."
Patriarch Twal said that "now is the time to intensify action to establish an independent Palestinian state." War and fighting must be rejected and there must be a negotiated settlement to the creation of a Palestinian state, he said, because "negotiations are the most civilized means to achieve justice Ð and justice and peace are reciprocal.
"That (negotiation) is the way to peace," Patriarch Twal said. "And peace is directly related to God. Peace is a task that God has entrusted to us."
"We want peace and security for Israel and, as well, we want peace and security for all, all, all people of the Holy Land," he said. "In the face of all this painful suffering, we raise our voice and say, ‘No more!’ It is time to stand before God – the Father of all, the judge of all – in order to change our ways."
With a Palestinian state and a return to peace, he said, "then we will have a future of justice, dignity and mutual respect, a future where the rights of all are protected."
Jerusalem, Patriarch Twal noted, "is the heart of the Palestinian-Jewish conflict," but it is also "the heart of Christian power."
Conflicts arise, he said, because of the "uniqueness of Jerusalem."
"Jews love Jerusalem and consider it their capital forever. Christian honor it as the site of our redemption," he said. "There is a strange unity among all believers because their roots are there."
Because the "unique mission" of Jerusalem is to be a "universal symbol of fraternity and peace," Patriarch Twal called on "all Jews, Christians and Muslims to work toward solidarity and mutual trust."
Patriarch Twal was installed June 22 as the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, replacing His Beatitude Michel Sabbah, who retired at the age of 75.
Born in 1940 in Madaba, Jordan, Patriarch Twal was ordained a priest in 1966 and spent several years as part of the Holy See’s diplomatic corps.
His tenure as a diplomat lasted from 1977 to 1992 and included stints at the apostolic nunciatures of Honduras, Germany and Peru. During this time he also served at the council for public affairs at the Vatican Secretariat of State.
Fouad Twal became a bishop on July 22, 1992, when he was ordained as the bishop of Tunis. On May 31, 1995, he was made archbishop of the same city.
He was named coadjutor of Jerusalem in 2005.
Archbishop Donald Wuerl, in welcoming the patriarch to Washington, said that he was "pleased to count him (Patriarch Twal) as a friend."
Archbishop Wuerl said the prelate’s visit to Washington offers Catholics "a sense of connectedness with the Holy Land," and would aid in "forming and nurturing understanding" of the plight of Christians there.
"Your ministry is so important, so crucial, so focused on keeping the Christian presence alive in the Holy Land," Archbishop Wuerl told Patriarch Twal. The patriarch’s visit, he added, highlights local Catholics’ "connectedness to our roots, connectedness to the Holy Land, connectedness to our history, connectedness to our Church."
Orlando Bishop Thomas Wenski, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace, told Patriarch Twal that his visit "reminds us of the vitality and resilience of the Mother Church."
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops," he said, "is committed to pursue a just peace in the Holy Land for Christians, Muslims and Jews."
During his visit to Washington, Patriarch Twal celebrated Mass Aug. 10 at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle. (See related story on this page). He also visited with Arab Christians at Saints Peter and Paul Antiochian Orthodox Church in Potomac, and met with representatives of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and other civic and religious leaders.
As spiritual leader of Latin Rite Catholics who live in the Holy Land, Patriarch Twal said that his patriarchate is committed to maintaining Church-run schools throughout Israel, the Palestinian territories and Jordan. Those schools, he said, are attended by children of other religions, as well as Catholics.
"When children study together, pray together and eat together, then we are preparing the next generation to at least know each other," he said.
Supporting Catholic education in the Holy Land is vital, Patriarch Twal said, "because it is from these schools we get our future priests and politicians."
"Our vocation is to remain there, despite our small number," he said. "We rely on your help, prayers and friendship," he said. "Please do not leave me alone in this mission."